GLA Staff

Trip Report: South Africa

Follow program designers Ariel & Yente through South Africa, GLA’s old stomping grounds and one of the most diverse countries in the world.

GLA's global mission means that our team of program specialists, country field managers, local partners and more is constantly on the move! When programs aren't running, our staff members are building relationships on the ground with NGOs and local leaders in each of the 20 countries where we operate—and designing immersive experiences for GLA students around those relationships.

Follow Ariel Moritz, Director of International Programs in Africa, and Yente Oosthuysen, Field Manager in Africa, on their recent trip to Cape Town and Johannesburg confirming last details for our South Africa: Social Change Project™ Flagship program this summer!

"There’s a beautiful phrase in South Africa, Sawubona."

Sawubona is the greeting that Zulu people say when they’re saying “hello” to one another. However, Sawubona also quite literally and profoundly means, “I see you.” And as you might suspect, “I see you” doesn’t imply ordinary seeing. Instead, like Namaste, it can mean, “The God in me sees the God in you,” or as in Aloha, “The light within me honors the light within you.” And the Zulu response to Sawubona, Ngikhona, means, “I am here.”

As always, when translating from one language to another, crucial subtleties are lost. Inherent in the Zulu greeting and its grateful response is the sense that until you saw me, I didn’t exist. By recognizing me, you brought me into existence. A Zulu folk saying clarifies this: Umuntu ngumuntu nagabantu. “A person is a person because of other people.”

South Africa is full of such simple, powerful lessons like this that I can’t wait for students to experience on program this summer. Just being in the country and using this beautiful greeting invites a shift in awareness.

"Growing up in South Africa raises you to feel like you could be at home, anywhere."

I live in this magical place—with mountains, beaches, safaris, cities like Cape Town—and yet, the most special thing about it goes way beyond its geography. There is a staggering amount of ethnic and cultural diversity that makes South African society unique! Until recently, these cultures were kept definitively apart, but now, as Nelson Mandela said, they blend together to form "the rainbow nation." 

Different South African ethnic groups, including the Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana and Ndebele, each with their own distinct language, have formed a kaleidoscopic pattern of cuisines, dances, music, art and much more. Most white South Africans have British or Afrikaans heritage, but there are also Portuguese and German speakers as a result of immigration from other parts of Southern Africa, plus pockets of Central Europeans. The country has by far the largest ethnic Indian population in Africa, and the descendants of generations who came to South Africa from modern-day Indonesia and Malaysia. In addition, South Africa has attracted entrepreneurs and artists from all over Africa and the rest of the world, adding to the cultural mix. 

My point? Visiting South Africa expands your horizon. "The rainbow nation" raises you to feel like you're a citizen of the world! Cape Town is where I live, but as you can see, it's taught me that you can feel at home anywhere. And I can't wait to see students' worldviews expand as they learn this lesson too.

To be continued...